Student, Teacher, Surgeon:
Finding the Humanity in Literature and Medicine
By Hannah Calkins
Washington, D.C., February 29, 2016 – As a a second-year Master’s student in English and a chief resident in urologic surgery at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, Daniel Marchalik doesn’t just understand the rich relationship between literature and medicine -- he lives it.
Through this work, Daniel has found that medicine and literature are just different means of studying what it means to be human.
“Doing medicine well is about more than attending strictly to a patient’s physiological health,” Daniel says, and as a physician, “bearing witness to illness, pain, moments that push people and families to the edge of suffering—that places a lot of literature in the context of the real world.”
In addition to his responsibilities as a surgical resident and a graduate student, Daniel teaches a course on literature and medicine at Georgetown’s School of Medicine, and he recently began writing a regular literature column for The Lancet, one of the oldest and most venerable medical journals in the world. Daniel also recently wrote an article for Slate about the role of fiction in training medical students and professionals on LGBT issues.
Daniel, who spent his childhood in Russia, has always been drawn to literature and to medicine, but didn’t imagine he would forge a career at intersection of the two fields. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he majored in English (with minors in Spanish and Biology), and even planned to earn a Ph.D. in literature. But he opted for medical school instead, also at Rutgers, and it wasn’t until he began his residency at Georgetown that he decided to revisit the idea of graduate work in English.
“The English MA program seemed incredibly progressive and open-minded,” he says, and during his time here he’s had the opportunity to develop his critical writing skills, to work with Professor Ortiz, and, finally, to “figure out why this whole fiction thing works in medicine.”
He gets to explore the “why” as a student, and as a teacher. Through discussion of literary themes and fictionalized situations, his students develop sophisticated tools for understanding their work and relationships as doctors. “Literature gives medical students a way to work through really complex questions,” he says.
For example, in his latest column for The Lancet, which was on Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See, Daniel cautioned against making reductive judgments about fictional characters and patients alike. “Medical settings, like war stories, seem to be populated by recognizable character types,” Daniel wrote. “The tendency towards easy reliance on common stereotypes is one reason why reading and discussing novels like Doerr's can be helpful in medical education.”
After graduation, Daniel hopes to use his Master’s in English to continue teaching literature to medical students. “There’s a line by Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Fahrenheit 451 where he says that fiction ‘puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over,’” Daniel recalls.
Working in literature and medicine, particularly with students, has shown him just how true that lie is.
Theory and Practice:
Building Pathways from the Writing Center to the Community
By Jessica Marr
Washington, D.C., December 9, 2015 – Second-year students in the MA English program at Georgetown tend to be busy toward the end of the fall semester as they conduct research for their theses and capstone projects. But Marielle Hampe, who chairs the English Graduate Student Association, also found time to present a group paper as part of a panel in early November. She attended the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW 2015) in Salt Lake City, Utah, with two of her colleagues from the University of Notre Dame.
The conference theme, “(De)Center: Testing Assumptions about Peer Tutoring and Writing Centers,” was timely for Marielle, as she helped Professor and Director of the Writing Center David Lipscomb launch the Georgetown Professional Writing Center (PWC) last spring. “The opportunity to apply to work in the Writing Center attracted me to Georgetown,” she said. “I wanted to learn from dedicated faculty in a highly respected institution, be involved with teaching, and continue the writing center work I began at Notre Dame,” where she graduated with a BA in English and minored in Education, Schooling & Society, and European Studies.
Marielle’s experience shadowing Director Lipscomb at the PWC and then leading one-on-one tutoring sessions gave her that opportunity she desired to develop a first-hand perspective on the shifting relationship of university writing centers to the broader community. “Community engagement is a hot topic in academia, and ‘community-based learning’ and ‘service learning’ are current buzzwords,” she explained. “Nationwide, writing centers have been relatively slow to participate in the conversation. My topic illustrates a new way writing centers can participate in community engagement and asks academia to view writing center tutors and workplace writers as a beneficial combination.”
For the presentation, Marielle discussed her work at Georgetown’s PWC, while her co-presenters, Catherine Latell and Jessie Newman, spoke about the University of Notre Dame’s Community Writing Center and doing creative projects with veterans and adults with mental illness. Together, they explored the ways that expanding writing centers beyond universities disrupts the traditional idea of who writing centers should serve, which “opens pathways for growth [of] tutors, administrators, and the community.” Marielle said, “I found it intellectually rewarding to compose a presentation that […] joined theories of writing center and community engagement with my personal experience, and this combination produced an exciting result.” She and her colleagues hope to submit their paper for publication in a journal.
Marielle’s primary focus now will be completing her master’s thesis, which will examine “novels’ silences about the governess’s classroom and teaching methods in Victorian England.” She aims to compare how nineteenth century teaching practices and twenty-first century professional writing center tutoring affect instruction, and how these systems are tied to questions of power, ideology, and the social purpose of education.
When asked about her plans after graduation in the spring, Marielle responded, “I hope to be a teacher, researcher, and lifelong learner. My findings about the Professional Writing Center and community engagement motivate me to look for creative ways to forge partnerships with community groups in my future career.”
Second-year MA student characterizes her experience as a Community Scholars Associate as “Awesome!”
By Jessica Marr
Washington, D.C., October 2, 2015 – Like many of her colleagues in the English MA program, second-year student Jorden Sanders plans to pursue a PhD after she graduates in May 2016. Jorden’s personal motivation for this long-term academic achievement cannot be fully understood, though, without first knowing where she came from and how it ties to her work as a Community Scholars (CS) Associate. “As a first-generation college student from a minority family, the opportunity to work with students from similar backgrounds and with similar struggles really appealed to me. It provided me with a way to be an academic resource to students eager to succeed while continuing my own education.”
Jorden, who is originally from Little Rock, AR, matriculated into the MA English program at Georgetown University in Fall 2014 after earning her BA in English from Westminster College in Missouri. This year, she is one of four CS Associates in the program.
As a CS Associate, Jorden works as both teaching assistant and instructor for the Georgetown Institute for College Preparation. Over the last two summer terms, she co-taught a Writing & Culture class for local high school students, which entailed working intensively with the students in addition to grading papers and class preparation. This summer, Jorden also began conducting research on her thesis project. Despite the rigor of balancing teaching duties and her own coursework, Jorden expressed that the experience has revealed her passion for teaching. “[Three of my] four sisters […] are teachers -- and I was convinced that teaching was not a career I wanted to pursue,” she said. But “after teaching [in] Scholars, I realized that I enjoy teaching. I enjoy watching students discover themselves. I enjoy helping them realize how genius they are. I now have a different appreciation for teachers.”
Jorden has focused her research interests to include “seeking to balance the uneven application of critical race, gender, post-colonial, and Marxist theories in scholarship concerning the narrative and rhetoric of 19th Century black masculine self-definition.” Now that the fall 2015 semester is in full swing, she continues to work on her thesis with her advisor, Dr. Dana Luciano, under the working title, “"A Return to Adam: the Rhetorical Ecology of Black Masculine Construction."
When asked what a typical day as a CS Associate in the English MA program is like, Jorden responded, “It’s really pretty awesome!” After a minute, she followed up with the sentiment that her experience at Georgetown would always inform the way she will teach, read, and view academia.
Simply put, she says, “It’s been life-changing.”